Research Article| Volume 24, SUPPLEMENT 3, C3-C25, 2002

Evolving uses of hormonal agents for breast cancer therapy

  • Frank J. Cummings
    Address correspondence to: F.J. Cummings, MD, Roger Williams Medical Center, 825 Chalkstone Avenue, Providence, RI 02908
    University Medical Group—Roger Williams Medical Center, Providence, Rhode Island, USA
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      Background: During the past decade, a number of new hormonal therapies (HTs) have been developed, including the selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs), aromatase inhibitors (AIs), and estrogen receptor (ER) antagonists. Their uses in breast cancer are continually evolving as new clinical trial results become available. Although tamoxifen, the most widely used HT for breast cancer, was originally approved for and used in the treatment of metastatic breast cancer (MBC), its effectiveness as MBC therapy led to its subsequent assessment and use as adjuvant and risk-reduction therapy for breast cancer. However, tamoxifen is not universally effective in these settings and is associated with infrequent known toxicities such as increased risk of thromboembolism and endometrial cancer; therefore, a search for more effective and more tolerable HTs has evolved.
      Objective: This article reviews the data supporting the use of newer HTs as initial treatment of MBC and their potential use as adjuvant, neoadjuvant, and chemopreventive therapies.
      Methods: Articles for inclusion in this manuscript were identified through the following searches, limited to English-language publications: MEDLINE (mid 1960s to January 2002), American Society of Oncology abstracts (1997–2001), and San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium abstracts (2001 and 2002). The following search terms were used: breast cancer, breast cancer guidelines, hormonal therapies, tamoxifen, toremifine, letrozole, anastrozole, exemestane, megestrol acetate, fulvestrant, and ICI 182,780.
      Results: Recent studies have focused on newer agents as initial and subsequent treatment of MBC, adjuvant or neoadjuvant treatments of breast cancer, and chemopreventive agents in both healthy women and women with a history of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). Results of clinical trials comparing AIs with tamoxifen as first-line MBC treatment show that AIs are as effective as, or more effective than, tamoxifen and are associated with fewer serious adverse events. Tamoxifen remains the gold standard for adjuvant therapy. However, preliminary results of ongoing clinical trials comparing tamoxifen with anastrozole suggest that anastrozole may be the superior agent. Both tamoxifen and the AIs have been shown to be active in the neoadjuvant treatment of breast cancer. Trial results have shown that tamoxifen is effective for breast cancer prevention in patients at high risk of developing breast cancer but who are otherwise healthy, patients with a history of DCIS, and patients with lobular carcinoma in situ.
      Conclusions: Although tamoxifen has been the gold standard of HT for breast cancer, results of ongoing trials assessing the newer HTs as initial, neoadjuvant, adjuvant, and chemopreventive therapies may substantially change our current clinical practice patterns.


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